Garden Tips


"Garden Tips...that work for me" presented by TVGC member, Susan Puma

February 2018

I received a question from a member recently that led me to discovering a terrific garden tip for all of you this month.

Q: I am new to Ca. gardening & to Temecula. We had our back slope cleared of old shrubs & replanted. Now I am finding this plant coming up all over the slope? Is it a troublemaker?

A: Thanks for your inquiry. Regretfully, I cannot positively identify the weed that has appeared all over your slope. I went online to the Weed Gallery on the UC Integrated Pest Management website (ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/WEEDS/california) but found nothing similar to your photo. Weeds by nature are troublesome in that they grow where one does not want them. I live on 10 acres and weeds are always a problem. Disturbed soil seems to be the prime propagation environment for them.

For the present, my recommendation is to spray with one of the environmentally friendly herbicides as soon as possible. At the next Garden Club meeting, my Garden Tip will be a recipe for a natural homemade weed killer that is not only environmentally safe but is inexpensive and really works.

None of us like weeds in our garden. Weeds will choke out the plants in our yard that we actually want there, stealing nutrients, water and sun. 

On the other hand, these days we may find ourselves debating whether to use harsh chemicals guaranteed to kill weeds or taking a more natural approach to weed abatement. We know “Round-Up” will get the job done, but using natural weed killers, when we can, makes good sense. They are better for the environment. After all, it’s not just you, your pets and your kids being exposed to the chemicals you spray in the yard. It’s the bees, song birds, micro-organisms, and other living things too.


Natural Weed Killer

I decided to try some of the recipes for homemade weed killers I found online to discover which one worked the best. I found one that worked very well for me. It’s a mixture of vinegar, Epsom salt and liquid dish soap. Here is the recipe:

For a little over 1 quart: 1 qt. White Distilled Vinegar, ¾ cup Epsom Salt, 1 Tbsp. blue Dawn Dish Soap. Place all ingredients in a hand sprayer and shake to mix. It takes a while for the Epsom Salt to dissolve. So, if you are as impatient as I am, you can add Epsom Salt to 2 cups Vinegar in a small pan and heat until dissolved. You will need to wait a little for the mixture to cool. Adding the other 2 cups of Vinegar helps to bring down the temperature.

For a little over 1 gallon: 1 gal. White Distilled Vinegar, 3 cups Epsom Salt, 4 Tbsp. blue Dawn Dish Soap.

This is why it works: The vinegar is a mild acid and will kill the plant when applied undiluted. The Epsom salt dissolved in the vinegar will do the same. So, you are giving the weed a double knock-out punch. The dish soap acts as a surfactant, allowing the vinegar mixture to penetrate weed cells and stick rather than drip off onto the ground.

Homemade weed spray is best used in full sun on a warm day, and is most effective on young weeds. Faye Wons commented at the meeting that in order to shield plants that are near weeds she will be spraying she created a shield out of a 1 gal. plastic milk container. After cutting off the bottom of the container, she places it over the weed, then sprays into the container with the end of the spray nozzle pointing into the top of the container. All the spray stays inside the container and does not hit other plants. What a great idea!

After spraying to thoroughly wet the leaves, the plant wilts within hours and is dead in a day or two. The great thing is that you can plant a sprayed area right away. After the weeds are dead, just water the area to dilute any of the mixture that might have been sprayed on the soil. Diluted, none of the products in the recipe will harm your plants.

Another benefit is cost. Vinegar weed killer costs pennies compared to “Round-Up.” Two gallons of the homemade weed killer costs under $5. “Round-up” was $37 for 1.33 gallons of ready to use spray.

I hope you will try this recipe and let me know how it works for you. I’ve recently learned of a “secret ingredient” to include in the recipe. I’ll let you know if the formula works any better with that at the next meeting.


January 2018

 


Q. I have hybrid tea roses that really do not go dormant in Temecula, so I'm not sure when it's best to prune.

 

A. Pruning encourages new stem growth and new blossoms, so no matter where you live you'll want to prune your roses every year even if they don't go dormant.

The best time to prune roses here in the Temecula Valley is between January 15 and February 15, before new growth appears and the probability of freezing temperatures is low. Before you start, make sure your pruning tools are clean and sharp.

Begin by cutting out dead, damaged and diseased growth.  Any canes that are old and striated (showing deep furrows) also need to be removed. Keep the nice green healthy canes. Then, cut out very thin canes and open the bush up by removing all branches that cross through the center or rub together. When removing an entire cane, make the cut as flush as you can to the bud union. If you leave a stub, it can die back into the bud union allowing entry for disease and pests. You may need to use a tree saw to get the final flush cut. 


Remove any suckers.  Suckers are any growth from below the graft union of your hybrid tea. Look carefully at the base of your plant. You probably see a swollen-looking area just above the soil level. This is the graft union, where the lovely flowering plant you bought was grafted onto the roots of another plant. That other plant is called rootstock. We want its roots, but nothing else.  Suckers will occasionally sprout from the rootstock and must be removed. Try not to cut off the suckers. Ideally, rip them out by hand at the base.  It’s okay is you rip out a little of the rose root in the process.  Ripping wounds the rootstock, making it less likely to resprout at that point.

The remaining canes, usually three to five but sometimes more in number, should be some distance from one another and look like a vase, open in the center, with canes extending from the graft area at a slight outward angle all around. Cut the canes back 12 to 18 inches from the graft union, about one-third to one-half their length.  Cut back to a point about a quarter inch above a leaf bud that points towards the outside of the plant. Make sure your cut is clean. Try not to make any ragged cuts, as this will allow insects and disease into the plant and open it up to infection. Always prune to a healthy bud. Make sure your cut is at a 45 degree angle going away from the bud.

    

Cutting these canes back seems extreme—we’ve already punished the plant so much—but this step is where the long stems come from. The buds on this framework will put up long growth with very large flowers on the end, because all the energy in the plant’s roots is channeled up into so few buds. 

Strip off all the leaves from the canes. New growth will appear about 6 weeks after pruning.  Clear all debris and weeds from around the rose and any soil that is covering the graft area.  In order to encourage new cane growth, I brush the graft area with a stiff natural fiber brush and sprinkle about 3/4 cup Epsom Salts around the base of the rose, then water moderately.

It is recommended to paint all cuts with a sealing compound because the plant is not actively growing and can't defend itself as well against diseases and pests. If you want to make sure your plants stay healthy, painting the cuts takes just a few minutes. 

Fertilize hybrid tea roses after the new bronze colored growth begins to turn green.  This will ensure that tender new stems are not burned.  Keeping your roses pruned properly every year will ensure healthy plants, and big, beautiful, fragrant flowers, which is why you have roses to begin with!


November 2017



Most of us have gophers in our gardens from time to time. There is nothing worse than finding a large gopher mound in the middle of your pristine lawn or losing a prized rose bush to a gopher’s voracious appetite for roots. The only trap that has consistently worked for me is the Black Hole Rodent Trap. It is easy to install and its tube shape appears to be part of the gopher run. So, I trap the gopher almost every time.  A spring triggered loop dispatches the gopher instantly and the easy release mechanism means there is no handling of the remains for disposal.

The Black Hole Trap is available at most garden supply stores for around $25 or at Amazon for $15. I have several that I’ve used for more than ten years. One trap has nabbed over 100 critters over the years. I drop the captured gophers on top of one of the large boulders on my property. Within minutes they are picked up by a raven or turkey vulture for a tasty meal. We call the spot “McPuma’s Fast Food Fly-In”.   It is a natural way to recycle those pesky rodents that ruin my garden.


October 2017

        


Forcing Bulbs Indoors for Holiday Décor and Gifts

Want something flowery and fresh to enjoy indoors during the holiday season? Try forcing bulbs for home décor or for gift giving. My favorite is paperwhite narcissus. Their small clusters of delicate, fragrant flowers make them a perfect choice. But you should get started right away while there is still a variety of healthy bulbs at our local nurseries. You will also need about 6 to 8 weeks for the flowers to be in full display.

You will find this is an easy project. Here are the steps and some tips that work for me:

Paperwhites are easy to force in a glass container, with just some decorative gravel or stones. Growing bulbs in glass allows you to watch the root systems grow and adds to the organic feel of the plant. I like using a taller container to help support the plants as they grow. I also add charcoal from the indoor plant section of the nursery to keep the water smelling sweet. This year I used granulated carbon for fish tanks purchased at the pet store.

Purchase firm, full, blemish free bulbs. When forcing, quality counts. Herein lies a controversy. Traditional paper whites are the “Zika” variety, and are known to have a very “select” scent. It’s one of those things in the gardening world, you either love it or hate it. I happen to lie in the latter category. Lucky for us, there are varieties that have a much more subtle scent. My favorite is called ‘Inbal’. They also happen to be a little shorter than the grocery store paper whites too, and therefore less likely to flop over. Keep in mind though, that “Inbal” prefers to be forced in soil, not water.

However, the ‘Zika’ variety is inexpensive and easy to find, and blooms prolifically. It is super easy to grow, and forgiving of mistakes. It also tends to bloom a bit earlier… so if the scent doesn’t offend you, there is a reason it is the most popular variety!

Pour two inches of pebbles that have been rinsed into your vase. Add a tablespoon or two of granulated carbon or rinsed charcoal then more pebbles. Place bulbs, root-side down and almost touching one another, on top. Add enough tepid water to reach just to the bottoms of the bulbs. Replenish when the level falls by a quarter inch. Keep in a cool, darker place 7-10 days until good roots form, and then move to a brighter lit, warm spot.

There is a tip going around the internet on how to avoid stems that flop over. There is a theory that if you mix the water with 1:1 vodka ratio, then the stems will grow straighter and stronger. I can’t say I have had any positive success with this, but a lot of experienced bulb growers swear by it. And frankly, it’s a little bit of an expensive way to water your plants! Remember, you can stake your bulbs if they flop. I recommend bright light as they are budding, and daily rotating of the vase to help avoid that

For the varieties that prefer it, or to make transport easier for gifts, you might want to force in soil. Plant the bulbs just under the surface of a general, well-draining potting soil in any container you choose. Water well, and keep moist. Put in a cool place for 7-10 days until roots form, then move to a bright, warm spot. Rotate them every day to keep the stalks growing upright. 

Paperwhites will bloom in four to six weeks, so if you are planting as gifts, count backwards in the calendar from the proposed gift giving time. The blooms last about two weeks. Most bulbs will not re-bloom after forcing, so it’s best to just discard the bulbs and start with new ones next year. 

Happy growing, Susan Puma


September 2017



Keeping Phalaenopsis Orchids Alive and Thriving in Your Home

1. Location
    a. Light Shade with bright indirect light; South facing if possible
    b. Temperature Above 60 degrees. If you are comfortable, your orchid will be.
    c. Humidity Leave half inch of water in bottom of container after watering

2. Container
    a. Plastic Container With bottom drainage holes, placed inside decorative
    ceramic pot with no drainage holes.
    b. Specialty Orchid Pot With holes in sides; no holes in bottom
    c. Potting Medium Bark or bark/Perlite mix. No Styrofoam. Can repot with
    commercial Phalaenopsis potting bark mix. Plant likes constricted roots.

3. Watering and Fertilization
    a. Frequency Once a week or every 4-5 days in hot or dry weather
    b. Method Fill sink or large container with water to level of bark when pot is
    submerged. Add fertilizer according to package instructions. Remove orchid
    from decorative pot. Soak in water for 20 minutes then drain 5 minutes. Replace
    in pot; add a little water to bottom if necessary. If using orchid pot, just drain.
    Some water will remain at bottom of pot.
    c. Fertilizer Use Grow More Orchid Food (30-10-10) from February through
    September and bloom formula 6-30-30 October through January.

4. Miscellaneous
    a. Grooming Remove water droplets and dust with a soft cloth. Cut bloom spikes
    close to the base after flowers drop. Remove yellowed or dried leaves.
    b. Staking As tender bloom spikes emerge, gently train them to upright position
    using bamboo stakes and orchid clips or ties.






"Garden Tips" presented by TVGC member, Shelley Craig

May 2017

Summer is coming and our main concern is when to water and how much. Determine when to water by observation.
Here are some water indicators:
• Santa Ana's dry winds
• Drooping flowers
• Falling petals
• Invading ants escaping their airless underground dwellings
• Folding leaves
• Wilting foliage
• Soil surface cracking

Water lawns and trees planted in the ground early in the morning or late afternoon. It is best to water deep but infrequently by hand or automatic drip system. Make sure the water percolates 8 inches deep by watering for 15 minutes. All trees, especially citrus, water once a month; twice a month, when temperature reaches high 90's and above. Do not wet the trunk. Mix white water based latex paint with water 50:50 and paint any exposed trunks without bark and branches without leaves. 

For container gardens and potted plants, the best watering time is afternoon. Research has determined that morning watering retards growth and stresses the plant. Afternoon till 6 p.m. watering increases the plant's rate of photosynthesis. and growth increases. Afternoon watering, does not burn leaves as once thought. I made an error in my speech saying potted plants need to be watered when the temperature is 70 degrees; instead they just need to be watered in the late afternoon when you would be comfortable watering. It is correct that all plants shut down at 80 degrees. Transpiration helps cool plants on hot days, because they release water through their leaves.  At 80 degrees, they stop transpiring to conserve water.  Dry Santa Ana winds also cause transpiration to cease. Only use liquid organic fertilizer to feed potted plants because the chemical fertilizer builds up in the soil and harms the roots which kills the plant. 

Consider Crop Production Services (L and M) for all your organic needs and vegetable plants. They give a discount for garden club members with their badge. Located at 28690 Las Haciendas in Temecula (951) 676-2990. Armstrong gives Garden Club Members a discount too.

If you are going away for week or less, try this trick for watering house plants. Take your hanger plants such as ferns and the peace lily to a sink filled with water. Hold the plant under water till it stops bubbling. Set aside till it stops draining. All drought tolerant plants such as dracaenas and cactus you only water when completely dry. Water only before you leave, if dry they will be fine. Take other plants such as orchids away from the light while you are away then they won't need watering while you are gone.

If you planted a drought tolerant or a California native plant last fall it is not established, therefore, it needs water every 2 weeks and once a week when temperatures reach 90 and above.

Summer is the time to plant palms and other tropical plants for example bougainvillea, hibiscus, plumeria, angel trumpet and birds of paradise. Make sure to water as needed because they won't be established till next summer.
Summer is the best time to evaluate your garden and make plans for this fall, winter and next year.
Remove the dead and the ugly and consider replacing or moving plants that are not thriving. Consider removing a plant that just takes up too much time and energy to keep it happy.

References: "California Gardening Rhythms" and "California Gardener's Guide" both books authors are Bruce and Sharon Asakawa.
It has been a pleasure to serve the Garden Club with my monthly tips. I have gained more knowledge as I researched and wrote. What all gardeners have in common is our desire to live, grow and learn with our garden. --Shelley Craig

April 2017

Ants are the most common garden pest. They are also necessary for a healthy garden,
therefore, we need to control ants and not eradicate them. How does an ant make your
garden healthy? Ants decompose organic matter which enriches the soil. They eat flea
and fly larvae and aerate the soil.

How do you control ants without eradicating them? First know that ants are attracted to
sugar and water. They actually milk "honeydew" in the insects they herd and protect,
such as aphids and mealy bugs. Ants also extract sugary juices from whiteflies and scale. 
When aphids attack your roses and vegetables it's a sure bet the ants were
already there. If you control the ants, other insects will be easier to manage.

Where to find ant traps and bait? The University of CA, Agriculture and Natural
Resources recommends KM ant liquid and pro bait system. Go to
www.ipm.ucanr.edu/ants to see the KM pro bait system and watch a video on how to
use it. If you want to purchase, then search for "KM ant pro bait station". It may be some
of us only need 2 bait stations and can split an order with a garden friend. Also ant
bait, Terro, is available at garden stores. There is also organic version of Terro at Crop
Production Services (L&M) at 28690 Las Haciendas. 

If you need lady bugs to control aphids, they are available at garden stores in the spring.
They are also available on line for reasonable prices in large amounts. Type 
"live lady bugs" into your search engine.


March 2017

Common Pruning of orange and grapefruit trees:

I will use the term citrus trees but I am only referring to orange and grapefruit trees. For example lemon trees are pruned differently than orange and grapefruit trees.  Spring is the best time to prune citrus trees, but when is spring in Temecula? If your tree is already budding, then Spring is here, so it is too late to top, shape, or remove a branch from the tree.  What you can do is remove suckers, water sprouts, dead wood or a dead branch. 

Do not thin the canopy of your tree thinking the tree needs more light inside.  Citrus trees need very little pruning all their lives. Suckers are important to remove because they affect the taste of the fruit and prevent healthy growth. Suckers are the upright thin shoots growing in and around the roots of the citrus tree. Water sprouts are upright thin shoots growing on the limbs, tree trunk, and where the main branch joins the trunk. How to remove suckers and water sprouts? You will need to stand under the canopy of the tree looking up at the branches and down at the roots. 

First prepare yourself for battle. Don heavy gloves, a thick sweater or coat and goggles to protect yourself from thorns. Arm yourself with small pruners, loppers, and a small pruning saw. To remove a dead limb, first be sure the branch is dead. Cut the limb where it meets the trunk. Flush with the trunk. Do not apply anything to nurse the wound unless you have exposed the wound and other branches to the sun. To protect exposed branches or roots purchase white water-based latex paint and diluted 1:1 to water.  If the lower branches above the roots are touching the ground you can cut them back a little at a time until they are no longer on the ground.  Resist the desire to cut them to trunk and remove them. This would expose the roots to the sun and require paint. 

Clean tools after pruning one tree and before you prune another.  Mix a disinfectant of bleach. Mix 4 parts of water and 1 part bleach. When done pruning clean tools.  Obtain a 2 cup container, add 2 teaspoons of oil with 1/2 a cup of vinegar; then add enough water to make 2 cups.


February 2017

This month's garden tips come from Toot's Bier's article "Keep Your Garden Healthy After A Rainstorm" in the "Press Enterprise". Toots was a graduating member of the first Riverside County Master Gardener class. She moved on to write garden tips in the "Press Enterprise" and teach master gardener classes. A thank you to the anonymous provider of Toot's article. The perfect follow up from last month's tip what to do before the storm. 

Winter rain is a welcome event but when heavy and continuous rains come our gardens may need attention.
 
 Puddles that remain several days after a storm are a red flag that your soil amends have been washed away or absorbed. Amend again between the rain drops with compost adding peat moss, leaves and/or sawdust. 

 Clean up any plant debris and leaves to prevent fungal diseases. If a fungus has developed, apply dormant oil before it rains on the tree or shrub and the ground under and around them. 

 If you have already planted spring color and used a water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer. Your fertilizer has dissolved and leached to where it is no longer available to the roots. Reapply fertilizer 1/2 strength. 

 Resist the urge to dig or cultivate the soil while it is heavy with water. It causes soil compaction, poor aeration and drainage that lead to poor root development.


January 2017

(1) Water your grass, flower beds, and outdoor plants before a rainstorm if they are parched due to the Southern California drought. With the water restrictions we all water as little as we can to get by, but when a heavy rain is on its way, soak everything that will benefit from the rain. It lessens runoff as the rain soaks deeper into the ground and there will be no need to water for weeks.

(2) Use pine needles as mulch around your camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Do not use needles from flocked trees. Remove tinsel. Gather pine needles from neighbors, family, friends and lots selling fresh trees.

(3) Old Christmas lights that emit heat, not LED's, can be wrapped around large plants or bushes to protect them from frost. Fans can also protect a plant from the cold by circulating the air.

(4) Pick biodegradable paper egg cartons when baking. Save the cartons for starting seeds in January.



November 2016
  • Keep cabbage worms and loopers off your winter vegetables. Try mixing 2 tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper with a cup of flour. Spread the flour dust around the veggies. The worms and loopers will eat the mixture and die. Other insects will be offended and leave.
  • Wad a mesh bag and put it in the bottom of your vase. Use the stems of your flowers to poke holes in the mesh. The flowers will be arranged and stay in place.
  • Put cinnamon sticks in your house plants to keep visiting dogs and cats off your house plants. When the aroma wanes, add a few drops of cinnamon extract to the sticks.
  • Buy your holiday poinsettia soon after Thanksgiving. Pick one that has unopened buds. The buds are in the center of the colored leaves (e.g., red leaves). Remove the plant from the sleeve ASAP. Place the poinsettia away from cold drafts. Don’t let the plant dry out between watering. Never put outside in the winter.